Photo from Library of Congress
For more than a year, we’ve been bringing intrepid New Yorkers and visitors on a hunt of the architectural remnants of the original Pennsylvania Station still viewable inside and around the current station. There are few people that contest the tragedy of the demolition of Penn Station, which began on October 28, 1963, after the Pennsylvania Railroad found itself in serious financial trouble. The McKim, Mead and White masterpiece, only 53 years old, became a martyr for the landmarks preservation cause when the air rights to Penn Station were sold to accommodate Madison Square Garden, that perpetually moving entertainment venue.
As history repeats itself, the current battle for Penn Station usually includes the relocation of Madison Square Garden once again to accommodate a modern transportation that might better accommodate the needs of the 600,000 people that traverse through Penn Station each day – more people daily than the number that pass through the three major New York City airports combined. New plans generally also involve returning natural light to a station that has been illuminated by fluorescent lighting for decades.
As the latest grandiose plans get revealed for the station’s rehabilitation, it is more than likely that any improvement to the subterranean maze will require the station to remain operational during construction, which was the case during the 1960s re-do of Penn Station. This unique requirement has allowed many artifacts and remnants still standing within the current station.
Below are 5 of our favorite remnants (there are many more to be discovered on our upcoming tour:
1. Cast-Iron Waiting Room Partition
This cast-iron partition in the Long Island Railroad waiting room is the only remnant MTA spokesman Sal Arena admitted existed, although the MTA website acknowledges that “Fragments of the old Penn Station are hidden in the lower depths of the building that replaced it.”) Most commuters pass by or under it repeatedly without knowing it to access the seats or bathrooms behind. The entryway was saved because it was walled off during the demolition and left untouched and forgotten for 30 years:
2. Brass and Wrought Iron Railings
Throughout the station are original staircases of brass and wrought iron from the original Penn Station, the most obvious reminder that the current station was built around the old. These staircases needed to continue to provide access for passengers during renovation and simply stayed put.
3. The Eagles of Penn Station
An original Penn Station eagle at 7th Avenue and 31st Street
2 of the 22 original eagles from Penn Station are still located there, but we’ve also tracked down where the rest of the eagles have migrated to, all across the country. Find out where in this article.
4. Original Glass Flooring
In the original light-filled station, glass bricks allowed natural light to reach down to lower levels, an architectural detail visible on vintage photographs. Though they no longer serve this purpose, the flooring remains visible in many locations in the station, again because the floors were not ripped up for the renovation but simply built around. On the tour, we’ll bring you to one place where new lighting has been added to particularly highlight the remnant. In addition, when you’re on the platforms themselves, look up because you can also catch more of the blocks.
5. Coal-Fired Power Plant of Penn Station
The above building, located on 31st Street is the original coal-fired power plant of the station, built as a mirror image using the same Tennessee granite as the lost Stanford White masterpiece. This is the closet we’ll get to sensing the scale and materials of the original station, and it is certainly the largest remnant of Penn Station that still exists.
Get tickets to our upcoming tour of the Remnants of Penn Station to see many more remnants not covered here The tour is led by Justin Rivers, playwright of The Eternal Space, a play about the demolition of Penn Station: